Several years after attrition took away the Pickerington Police Department's use of bicycle patrols, they have been reinstituted with plans for expanding in 2019.
According to Pickerington Police Cmdr. Tod Cheney, studies show deploying police officers on bicycles result in about twice as many contacts with members of the public than officers on patrol in cruisers.
That results in better communications with residents and others, which helps officers maintain safety, he said.
So with that in mind, department leadership in May dusted off a couple mountain bikes from storage and assigned them to two officers who earlier this year completed bike patrol certification training offered by the Columbus Division of Police.
"We started a bike patrol even before I started in 1995," Cheney said.
"At that time, we had an officer the department sent to be a bike-patrol instructor, but that officer retired several years ago.
"We had a pause in the program, but Chief (Michael) Taylor was a big proponent of it and he wanted to start it up again."
Cheney said two Pickerington police officers and a sergeant who serves as their supervisor now are certified by the International Police Mountain Bike Association, and the department hopes to get up to four more certified by the end of 2019.
They are not assigned to bicycle patrol for their entire shifts.
The officers have the bikes on racks installed on their cruisers while they complete their regular patrols.
When the officers have a lull in their shifts, or when they come to business districts, residential areas or parks, they often park their cruisers and patrol the areas on bikes.
They also typically use the bikes for patrols during large public events, such as the community's July 4th celebration and the Picktown Palooza.
"They can get to areas where cruisers can't," Cheney said. "The person on the bike also can get places a lot quicker than any officers who are on foot."
Additionally, Cheney said, bike patrols are effective because criminals often are not on the lookout for an officer pedaling through an area, and officers can pick up on crimes they might not observe in a cruiser.
"A bike officer can use all of their senses," he said. "It's often hard to hear things outside when you're riding in a car.
"This is just to supplement and use in specific situations."
Cheney said bike patrols do add expense to police departments, but it is moderate.
He estimated it costs about $1,000 a year, per bike officer, to provide training, more visible uniforms and bike maintenance. Cheney said initial certification training is a one-time expense of about $275.
Funding for the bike patrol program comes, in part, from the division's annual training budget appropriation approved by Pickerington City Council.
Cheney said the department has had four mountain bikes for several years.
Mayor Lee Gray said he likes the two-wheeled patrols, most notably because it makes officers more accessible to residents.
He said he believes it provides flexibility for the department as it attempts to patrol areas and track down suspects.
"I think it's just another way for us to enhance the visibility and effectiveness of our police department," Gray said.
"I've already seen them out in the parks, talking to residents, and they can be visible in areas that potentially a cruiser could not.
"I also think they can set a good example with their helmets and teaching about bike safety."